Despite all the talk about work-life balance or job satisfaction, being busy – or at least giving off the illusion of busy-ness - remains a powerful force in the American workplace and culture. Instead of working hard for the sake of fulfillment, productivity or passion, our pursuit of busyness has become a status symbol of our value and worth. Consequently, busyness has become the domain of the well off and privileged, a way to show our value in an era when economic instability makes job security low.
“I frequently talk to MBA students about their careers and aspirations for life. Some of these students worked on Wall Street, and when we talk, a number of them admit that the key to their success was creating the illusion of hard work. One said that he and the other associates would leave their suit coats on their chairs at the end of the work day to make it seem that they hadn’t left for the night — that they were somewhere in the building doing work — when in fact they had gone home. "We have these little tricks of the trade to create the impression that we are absolutely committed to the organization, even when we don’t have any work," he told me. "It’s part of managing expectations and our images."" (Harvard Business Review)
"If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite’” (The New York Times).
"But there’s another long-term issue in play than simply who gets what percentage of the national income pie. It’s that Americans continue to define themselves by work when technology continues to reduce the demand for labor. A couple recent articles have probed this phenomenon. A New York Times piece talks about our addiction to busyness: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day” (The Atlantic).
"Across the world, it seems, wealthier people are much more likely to complain — or kvetch, if you will — about being busy than the poor. …We all live on two things: time and money. And people who have extra income don’t get much, if any, extra time to spend it. As a result, Hamermesh argues, each of their hours seems more valuable, and they feel the clock ticking away more acutely. Much the way it’s more stressful to order dinner from a menu with 100 items than 10, choosing between a night at the symphony, seats at the hot new play, or tickets to Woody Allen’s latest flick is in some senses more stressful than knowing you’ll have to save money by staying in for the evening. There’s a lot the rich could be doing and too few hours to do it all” (The Atlantic).
How can we shift our national focus from busyness to productivity? What are we losing when we put up a façade of busyness rather than working on something valuable?
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